By Sonala Olumhense
It is six months since President Muhammadu Buhari responded to the shame of Nigeria becoming the poverty capital of the world under his watch.
Speaking on June 12, Nigeria’s new Democracy Day, he announced that his All Progressives Congress (APC) party would lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years.
Such an achievement was possible, he argued, “with leadership and a sense of purpose,” because such countries as China, India and Indonesia had done it.
This morning, I speak as a supporter of the objective but also as a sceptic, because in these six months, nothing has been heard of his plan, if any.
On the contrary, in August, Mr Buhari curiously claimed that during three years of the period in which Nigerians were becoming the world’s poorest, his government lifted at least five million Nigerians out of extreme poverty.
That preposterous and widely-rejected claim was made on Buhari’s behalf in Abuja by Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, at the Global Youth Employment Forum of the International Labour Organisation.
It was no surprise that Nigerians and non-Nigerians alike met the claim with general derision, as all statistics point to increasingly abysmal economic indicators in the country.
Worse still, neither at that occasion nor since then has the Buhari government said one word about the far more important 100m it claimed in June to have in sight over 10 years.
There is no plan, or at least one known to the public, about how the government intends to implement its decision.
Perhaps there is only a hoax, which would be a pity, with the government planning in a year or two to lie about having performed the feat.
A part of this pity is that APC governments, particularly at the centre, know everything about politicking but nothing about governance.
Only this can explain why they are always so loud in their proclamations and propaganda but thin on implementation and results.
In previous articles in this column, I have drawn attention to statistics pointing out that Nigeria comes last in rankings of countries on their commitment to reducing inequality.
While Nigerian officials often talk loud and long about the results they intend to achieve, such as lifting people out of poverty, they nearly never work at it.
Sadly, Buhari has emerged the champion of this dark art.
Only last year, Bill Gates dismissed the pretentions to any relevance of the Nigerian government, saying its economic template could in no way move Nigeria forward.
He was speaking in Abuja as a guest of the government, which had invited him to its “expanded” National Economic Council.
Speaking on “Role of human capital investment in supporting pro-poor and economic growth agenda,” he urged Buhari, if he wished to achieve the upper middle-income status of such countries as Brazil, China and Mexico, to invest in Nigerians.
Beyond Nigeria becoming the world’s poverty capital, and UNDP establishing that the population of multi-dimensionally poor Nigerians rose from 86 million to 98 million between 2007 and 2017, the World Poverty Clock has also warned that poverty in the country is now advancing at the rate of six persons per minute.
That is nearly 90,000 every day, which is why one would have expected the Buhari government to have published its masterplan, if any, very quickly.
But a plan of this nature requires only the best experts, not relatives or friends or party operatives, as well as total commitment to the objective. China, India, Brazil, Indonesia and several other countries that have made a success of the onslaught on poverty did not do so through speeches and pretensions.
Instead, Nigeria is stuck in a nightmare in which her intellectuals are nervously kept at arm’s length and the prime purpose of governance seems to be power for its own purpose.
Notably, deterioration rules the day as the rule of law becomes meaningless. Press freedom is shrinking as the government takes delight in muzzling or threatening critics and activists, even those who are granted their constitutional rights by the courts.
While the Buhari government is arrogantly chasing fake news in place of productive governance, the country grows unsafe.
While the Buhari government is pretentiously going after hate speech, life is grinding to a halt, squeezed in all directions by an absence of direction, and sometimes—because whatever used to pass for infrastructure has been overtaken by weeds or promises—no direction at all.
Life is grinding to a halt either because there are no roads, or because there is no movement (which is in some cases the same thing). In the bigger cities, people are spending more time in traffic than they are doing at work, and achieving nothing.
In other words, poverty in Nigeria is far more complicated and intricate than may be covered by conventional statistics, suggesting the immensity of the response required for meaningful improvement.
Unfortunately, the first part of the task is something that the Buhari government does not appear to understand at all: the value of time. A government which spends an inordinate amount of time manufacturing excuses and propaganda lacks that time to invest in work.
Since Buhari announced his anti-poverty plan, for instance, six months—during which he spent two weeks sleeping with no sign of embarrassment in London until he was escorted out by concerned Nigerians who live there—have been lost to indolence.
The other part of this nightmare then, is the possibility that the plan is entirely a hoax that was cooked up to make Buhari look good or sound intelligent.
The truth is that the problem of poverty in Nigeria has a great deal to do with her corruption, which is tied to our weak institutions and the oil industry.
But we will never know exactly where we are until someone sufficiently powerful and patriotic can summon the vision to engineer and implement a plan that is not dependent on relatives, friends or praise-singers.
When it comes to corruption, it is clear now that Buhari is not the man he advertised himself to be, and that he will never be able to battle the menace.
If he cannot confront that menace, that also means he cannot champion the related battle against poverty.
That would explain yet another conundrum of a battle cry but not a battle; the precinct of fake prophets and prophecies.
Just imagine the sheer number of children on the streets of northern Nigeria alone the lives of whom he could have re-shaped.